Red Crystal Palace  by Fereshteh Toosi
radio broadcast and participatory public intervention


Listen to recordings from the visit to Chicago here: MP3 (36 MB)
Please check back for more audio recordings from Washington DC and Los Angeles, coming soon.

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Background Information

Red Crystal Palace visited Chicago on 26 March and Los Angeles on 7 April, in addition to going out on the streets of DC during the Multimediale Festival. I am broadcasting voices from these cities as a symbolic soap box for people to speak back to the capital.

The name is a reference to the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, and also the Crystal Palace that was made for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, a World's Fair held in 1853 in New York City. I've been interested in the history of the world's fairs for a long time, particularly their legacy as venues for nations to show off industrial progress and cultural exploits. In fact my "palace" is quite a humble little structure, so there's a bit of irony. 

During these world's fairs, one would find Orientalist displays: western interpretations of eastern culture. And that ties in with the tea aspect, as I was also thinking about the culture of tea houses in East and South East Asia. The tea house is traditionally a social gathering place, and it serves as a metaphor for my dialogic intentions. It's important for me to give people something in exchange for stopping to have a conversation with me, so I offer people red bush (rooibos) tea, and red sugar crystals (rock candy), and I ask people to predict the future. They are welcome to use my crystal ball inside the red tent to help with the predictions.

The project also refers to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is a private humanitarian institution that was founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Red Cross and Red Crescent are the universally recognized symbols of the ICRC, but in December 2005, the Red Crystal was adopted as an emblem that would not have the religious connotations of the cross or the crescent. Currently it is only in use by Eritrea, the UK, and Israel. 

Most people are familiar with the Red Cross and associate it with medical aid, but their mission is much more broad. They have authority under international humanitarian law, and their mission is to "protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance". The ICRC assists people during natural disasters, makes certain warring parties comply with the Geneva Conventions, and supervises the treatment of prisoners of war, among other things.

When I walk with the tea cart, I am dressed as a nurse to evoke people's common associations with the ICRC, but the conversations that I have with participants are about war and foreign policy, and this is meant to address the larger mission of the ICRC. The piece is not about representing the Red Cross, but about invoking its mission of caretaking during wartime and mashing that up with this idea of the crystal palace/world's fair as a display of the present moment and visions for the future.